Thu | Jan 18, 2018

Outameni back on the market

Published:Sunday | December 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
The Outameni Experience attraction at the Orange Grove Estate in Trelawny.

The National Housing Trust (NHT) indicated at midyear that it had closed bidding on the Orange Grove Estate in Trelawny, but the state agency was back in the market this month with a new invitation for investors to consider the historic property for either purchase or lease.

The agency was forced to list the property again after negotiations with a prospective investor werederailed.

The estate, best known by the name of the hospitality business that operated there, Outameni Tours and Entertainment Attraction, is a lossmaker that the NHT has been trying to offload since 2015.

The last set of bids was reportedly submitted in October of 2016 and underwent a period of review.

On Wednesday, the NHT said that it had selected a buyer from the October bids but suggested that it did not close the deal because the prospective buyer got cold feet.

THREE BIDS

"The NHT received a total of three bids for the property. Two of the bids were disqualified for not having met the requirements. The successful bidder was written to and informed that they had submitted the preferred proposal. The trust further notified the bidder that it would be carrying out its due diligence and would communicate further on completion of the exercise," said the housing agency through its communications department.

"On notification that the trust was ready to proceed with an agreement for sale, the bidder informed, via their attorneys, that they were no longer interested in the property. As a result, the NHT has readvertised the property," the housing agency said.

The NHT acquired Orange Grove in the May 2013. The property was then controlled by Lennie Little-White but was heavily indebted to the former Capital & Credit Merchant Bank. The deal created a scandal for the NHT, which ended up spending millions on the venture without adequate return.

The state agency, whose remit is housing development and mortgage loans, was heavily criticised for the acquisition of a hospitality business that was outside its core area of operation. The NHT chairman at the time, Easton Douglas, had defended the $180 million deal as a 'social' investment, given the estate's history.

He then compared it to the investment made by the NHT in the development of Emancipation Park in New Kingston.

The property includes a great house, which the NHT touted in its current advertisements for new bidders.

"The property is of historic interest, having on site a 246-year-old Georgian house and a sugar mill. The house has swimming pool and lawn areas," the ad read.

The Outameni attraction once staged drama, indigenous dance, music, and motion pictures in seven Taino, Spanish, African, British, Indian, Chinese and Rasta villages and featured reggae music in modern Jamaica. There was also a sampling of Jamaican foods in each village. It also offered waterslides, bounceabouts, and a Jamaican restaurant.

The 'Outameni Experience', as it was branded, included a great house tour mainly targeted at cruise passengers after a cruise ship port was developed at Falmouth, the Trelawny capital.

The NHT has not given a deadline for new bids.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com